Defining Country and Rustic Roads

Defining Country and Rustic Roads

Music agents won't ask Montgomery County officials to re-record John Denver's pop classic, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," any time soon.

While Denver's hit conjures an image of a West Virginia country road, the definition of a Montgomery County country road has left county agencies singing different tunes.

"'Country roads' is a new designation of road classification," said Sarah Navid, of the Department of Public Works and Transportation. "There is disagreement within the county agencies. … There are standards proposed by Public Works and Transportation that nobody has accepted yet."

The committee of County Council working on the Potomac Master Plan recommended using the country road designation for several key Potomac roads instead of the rustic roads designation recommended in the current draft of the Master Plan. The change could mean big changes along some of Potomac’s roads.

"The country road is a classification that is not as restrictive as rustic road," said Callum Murray, Potomac team leader with Planning Board staff. "When we were debating classification of all the roads with the citizens advisory group, the Department of Transportation came up with a cross section for country roads that had more asphalt and paving than the original road. The whole intent is to protect the road; it is counter-productive to widen it."

The council committee voted to make the portion of Glen Road between Travilah Road and Piney Meetinghouse Road a country instead of rustic road. The rustic road designation protects the road from any changes.

The full Council will deliberate over the committee's recommendation and will vote on this and all other issues in the Potomac Master Plan during February and March. The Potomac Master Plan, scheduled to be approved in March, is the 20-year blueprint for landuse in Potomac.

<mh>Resting Horses

<bt>"The Rustic Roads program was developed in part to protect the sylvan nature of the Subregion's roads, particularly in the Watts Branch of Glen, South Glen Roads," states the Potomac Master Plan.

As Glen and Glen Mill roads climb north from the crossing at the one-lane bridge, they offer a graph of Potomac's history.

"We found the Glen roads have a unique vertical alignment. They slope down, then level, slope down, then level, so horses pulling wagons could rest both going up and down," said Callum Murray, Potomac team leader with Planning Board staff.

Planning Board staff and the Potomac Master Plan Citizens Advisory Board recommended that this portion of Glen Road and nine other roads be designated as rustic in order to protect them from changes in the future.

"Little or no changes are allowed to these rustic roads, which are closely monitored by Public Works and Transportation," said Navid.

Some planners say the country road designation doesn't necessarily ensure that Glen Road will be preserved in its historic appearance.

"The intent of rustic road legislation is to preserve low traffic volume roads in their exact condition, to make no improvements," said Dan Hardy, director of transportation with Park and Planning. "The intent of country roads classification is to respect the agricultural rural nature but have reduced standards that still allow for improvements to the road but less so than suburban residential streets or arterials."

<mh>Disagreement, Uncertainty

<bt>The difference between intent and uncertainty over what might or might not be permitted is what gives planners, including Hardy and Murray, concern and even disagreement with one another.

"The new roadway classifications would have flexible standards that would allow Montgomery County Department of Transportation to provide safety improvements and minor upgrading in a manner that would be compatible with the existing roadway and the character of our agricultural land. … It would be both cost-efficient and aesthetically pleasing to fit the roadway and the character of the area through which it passes, rather than imposing ‘look alike’ standard used elsewhere.

"The idea of the classification is that there not be rigid standards for improvements to these roads, but that improvements be custom-designed, based on the traffic volume and the design speed and the character of the road," reads the Rustic Road Functional Master Plan. "The classification would serve to retain the rural characteristics of the road."

But even the most restrictive reading of this definition of country road could still permit changes to the road they still are trying to protect.

"We do take issue because of uncertainty of the design. The country road design could be 26 feet [wide]," said Hardy. This is significantly wider than Potomac’s rustic roads.

"I think it would be narrower than that, but to get the classification right is the important thing," said Glenn Orlin of Council staff during the worksession with the PHED committee.

<mh>3,000 Vehicles

<bt>More than 3,000 vehicles a day use the portion of Glen Road, which exceeds the limit for a rustic road. The Planning Board draft of the Master Plan recommends amending the law to waive the volume and safety requirements in areas with a designated two-lane road policy.

The Rustic Road Program was developed partly because of the Potomac’s narrow, winding, climbing roads in the Glen of Watts Branch.

"Portions of Glen, Glen Mill, and South Glen road are among the most scenic in the county and were among the main reasons for the creation of the Rustic Roads Program in 1990," reads Orlin's recommendation to the PHED committee. "The Planning Board, the executive, the Rustic Roads Advisory Committee and the nearby residents all agree that these particular road segments should be preserved."

What agencies have not agreed on, however, is how to define country roads, something that leaves the fate of this portion of Glen Road still in doubt if the Council were to approve the PHED committee's recommendation in March.

"We are going to clarify this when [the Master Plan] goes to Council," said Murray.

"The powers that be have to come together on this," said Navid.